In his new comedy “Here Comes The Boom,” Kevin James plays a dedicated biology teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter as a way of raising the money to save his school’s music program. His character, Scott Voss, gets pummeled, kicked, choked, walloped and body slammed. To prepare for the role, James endured twice or even three times-a-day workouts, running, lifting and engaging in MMA drills.
“Physically, this role was like I’ve never prepared for a role before,” he said. “Fourteen months out we started really intense training, just like a fighter would. We trained really, really hard. There’s nothing you can do to train to take away the pain of being punched in the face. The ache in my body took a little longer to recover because I was fighting guys who were 20 years younger than I was.”
But that’s not why James was rolled into our interview in a wheelchair on Monday. He had just randomly thrown his back out.
“Oddly enough, I survive all that and then today getting into a town car, I throw out my back,” said James, who visited Atlanta on Monday on a tour promoting the movie, which comes out Oct. 12. “It’s happened a couple of times. It’s never the good story where you’re like, yeah I was getting thrown. Someone took me and did a judo flip and landed on me. It’s literally me leaning over the sink to brush my teeth and it goes out.”
(Props to James for continuing his interview schedule anyway!)
“Here Comes the Boom,” a Columbia Pictures project, stars James’ friend and trainer Bas Rutten, himself a past UFC Heavyweight Champion, as Voss’ trainer, Niko. Henry Winkler is the daffy yet lovable music teacher whose job is at risk thanks to looming budget cuts and whose imperiled program inspires Voss to begin his fighting career.
Both James and Winkler’s characters are dedicated to preserving the music program, not only because a teacher’s job is at stake but also because enriches the lives of the budding young musicians. So James’ character, Voss, enters cage matches as a way of bridging the financial gap. He is coached on by Niko, a prospective U.S. citizen Voss teaches in a night-school citizenship class, and cheered on by the lovely school nurse played by Salma Hayek.
Yes, it sounds sort of crazy. But despite the somewhat far-fetched plot the movie remains self-aware and it works, delightfully so. James and Winkler in particular have great chemistry in the flick.
“He is the greatest,” James said. “Obviously I knew him from all his work. I’ve always loved his work as an actor. He’s the sweetest guy ever. He’s so funny in this thing.”
Although “Here Comes the Boom” took great pains to replicate Ultimate Fighting Championship action (and was officially sanctioned by UFC), it’s not just a fighting movie, James said.
“The fighting is just a metaphor in this movie,” he said. “It can be whatever obstacles in life you have that are in front of you. Just to not give up, to reinvigorate yourself in whatever you do, and do it to the best of your ability and become the best version of yourself, as corny as that sounds. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going in reverse.”